Hip hop is a vast territory, and it’s often difficult to make declarative statements about it because a counterexample is usually just around the corner. However, there are clear facts, and one of them is that 1996 was one of the greatest years in hip hop history. Here’s just five of the incredible releases from that year:
A Tribe Called Quest, “Beats, Rhymes and Life”
The Roots, “Iladelph Halflife”
Busta Rhymes, “The Coming”
Mobb Deep, “Hell on Earth”
The sound of that year is one of my favorites in hip hop, as the music moved away from upbeat funk and jazz constructions and into a darker mode. what’s always amazed me, as well, is how consistent this shift was.
What these albums share is not only a common time frame or, with the exception of ATLiens from Atlanta, a common geography, but also importantly, a common means of production. in fact, these albums were some of the last albums to be made and distributed before digital download and streaming services became widely available just two years later. While the democratization of access to production and distribution has greatly increased the availability of quality and important hip hop, it has also meant the flattening of a formerly textured landscape, where similarities were less an indication of imitation, and more to do with solidarity.